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Reds revive call for amnesty

Reds revive call for amnesty

Red-shirt leaders are floating two proposals to help secure amnesty for political prisoners, saying hopeful signs have emerged following recent statements by Privy Council chairman Gen Prem Tinsulanonda.

Surachai "Sae Dan" Danwattannanusorn, 70, a lese majeste prisoner, said the Yingluck Shinawatra government should act swiftly now, as Gen Prem has said that people who think differently should be able to live and work together toward nation building.

"Many people may think our country has been divided," Gen Prem said in an address to military commanders late last month. "In fact there is no division, just differences of opinion."

Surachai: Clearing Lak Si prison is a priority.

"Overall, the positions of the Pheu Thai government and the red-shirts seem better, but discouraging signs are still there as one more person died in the temporary prison at Lak Si just days before the New Year," said Surachai. "Therefore, the government must quickly clear the Lak Si prison."

Wanchai Raksa-nguansilp, a 30-year-old red-shirt detainee sentenced to 22 years for burning the Udon Thani municipal office in May 2010, died on Dec 27 after collapsing at the Lak Si prison.

Surachai, a former communist rebel from Nakhon Si Thammarat province, was sentenced to a total of 12.5 years for lese majeste but has had his sentence reduced by a total of 21 months on the occasions of Her Majesty the Queen's and His Royal Highness the Crown Prince's birthdays.

He had been looking forward to receiving a royal pardon from five lese majeste cases he had chosen not to fight any further. But his hope might be dashed as he faces a new charge laid in November for defying orders to disband a protest in April 2009 when Thailand hosted the Asean summit in Pattaya. Surachai said the charge was ridiculous since the protest took place the night before a crowd stormed the summit venue.

Surachai proposed that the government could request the Appeal Court (the Lak Si prisoners are in the appeal process) to accelerate its rulings, so that the Justice Ministry could proceed to issue a royal decree for amnesty of these prisoners under Penal Procedural Code Articles 259 and 261(2).

"This step could be a precedent for all political detainees, prisoners including the yellow-shirt members, Abhisit Vejjajiva and Suthep Thaugsuban," he said, referring to the former Democrat premier and deputy premier who face murder charges related to the crackdown on red short protesters in May 2010.

"And this is an act within the remit of the law," said Surachai from Bangkok Remand Prison on Friday, where 50 red shirts showed up in solidarity with red-shirt prisoners there.

Issuing a royal decree to free prisoners has been done before, he said.

"In the wake of the fatal Talumpuk storm in Nakhon Si Thammarat in October 1962, the Sarit Thanarat government singled out prisoners at Pak Phanang Prison as they did not escape when the prison was inundated and damaged," he said.

He noted that the government should pursue the proposal with the same energy it is using to secure the release of two Thais, Veera Somkwamkid and Ratree Pipatana-paiboon, from jail in Cambodia.

"Other governments have jailed us, our governments still detain us. When will we get freedom?" he asked.

Suda Rungkuphan, a member of the Declaration of Street Justice, said her group supported the Nitirat Group's proposal to make political amnesty a new chapter in the new constitution.

By early February, Dr Suda said, the group hopes to have as many as 10,000 people turn out to appeal to the government to seriously consider the proposals of the Thammasat University law professors who make up Nitirat.

"Those charged under the Emergency Decree should be given a clean slate, while those fighting court cases should at least get a basic right of temporary release to defend themselves better in the trials," said Dr Suda, whose group helps political prisoners.

Beneficiaries of the Nitirat amnesty proposals, if accepted, would include protesters who physically engaged in demonstrations and those expressing views in magazines or on the internet, including lese majeste cases, from the time of the Sept 19 2006 coup up to the 2011 general election.

However, Somchai Homlaor, a former member of the now-defunct Truth and Reconciliation Commission and now a member of the Law Reform Commission (LRC), said that introducing national reconciliation laws or amending the constitution for the purpose could only be sustainably achieved once more conducive political sentiment prevailed. And now is not yet that time, he said.

"That is why the LRC suggested to Parliament to postpone consideration of four reconciliation bills in June last year because at the time then, and even now, the atmosphere is not yet ripe for the move," said Mr Somchai.

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